Opening statement of Michelle Bachelet at CSW57: “Time for action: Prevent and end violence against women and girls”


“TIME FOR ACTION: Prevent and end violence against women and girls”. Opening statement of Michelle Bachelet, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and UN Women Executive Director, at the 57th session of UN Commission on the Status of Women, 4 March 2013, New York


UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet speaks at the opening of the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women on 4 March 2013 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Photo Credit: UN Women/Catianne Tijerina

[As delivered]

Madam Chair,
Mr. Deputy Secretary-General,
Distinguished delegates,
Representatives of civil society
Colleagues and friends,

I am delighted to be here with all of you at this 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women. This is not just one more session. This is not just one more year. So much has happened since we last met. The world is watching as we come together to prevent and end violence against women and girls.

Recent events and protests point to growing awareness and momentum. Over the past few months, women, men, and young people took to the streets with signs that ask “Where is the justice?” with rallying cries that say “Wake up!”

They declared solidarity with a Pakistani girl shot for defending the right to education. They pledged justice for a young woman in India and another in South Africa who were brutally raped and later died. They demanded an end to the endless cases of rape and violence that threaten the lives of countless women and girls in every country but never make the headlines.

It is an understatement to say that the priority theme of this 57th session, the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls, is timely.

I thank our Chair, Ambassador Kamara, ECOSOC Vice-President Ambassador Hoxha, Deputy Secretary-General Eliasson, Special Rapporteur Manjoo, CEDAW Chair Ameline, and all of you. I thank all of you who are here today, Ministers and Ambassadors and representatives of civil society, and all people around the world, who believe in and take action for the human rights of women.

We are here in this Commission on the Status of Women because every person has the right to live free of violence and discrimination. The world can no longer afford the costs of violence against women and girls, the social and economic costs and the costs in deep human pain and suffering.

I would like to share with you women’s voices and stories from around the world:

A 20-year-old girl named Kristin from the United States was raped by a close male friend she thought she could trust, and she wrote this in her journal: “The pain. The stench. The look of hate in his eyes. Is he still out there? What is left of my soul?” Less than five months later, Kristin took her own life, unable to live with the pain any longer.

A young woman from northern Mali said this: “The rebels were just at the corner and watching me. When I came out, they forced me in their vehicle and chained my two arms. There were four of them and they took me to a dark area. Three other girls were also there. They raped us during two nights and each time they came in groups of three, four and sometimes five.”

A 44-year-old woman from Vietnam said this: “He bled me for every dong I earned. He would say, ‘How much do you earn today? Give me all or I will beat you to death.”

And a young woman from Moldova who was kidnapped and trafficked said this in a court statement: “They took me to a forest and I was beaten and raped… I really believed I was going to die. They then drove me to a house where many men were staying. They were all very drunk and took turns to rape me.”
My friends,

The violence needs to stop. We need strong commitment and action to end violence against women and girls.

For more than six decades, this Commission has pushed us forward, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, shaping global policies on gender equality and the empowerment of women.

This Commission has promoted the advancement of women and the realization of women’s rights as human rights, and drafted the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, CEDAW.

Since it first opened its doors, this Commission has welcomed women’s groups and NGOs as participants. This year broke previous records with the pre-registration of 6,000 representatives of civil society.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Dear friends,

I draw your attention to the voices of women and the history and achievements of this Commission on the Status of Women because this session, this 57th session, holds historical importance. This is the largest international meeting on ending violence against women.

During the past decades, we have made progress in the articulation of international norms and standards, and national laws and policies and programmes.
But violence against women and girls remains widespread, and impunity is still the norm rather than the exception.

Now we must take on the challenge of implementation and accountability.

My message is: Now is the time for action.

It is time for action when up to 70 per cent of women in some countries face physical and /or sexual violence in their lifetime. When intimate partner violence accounts for between 40 and 70 per cent of female murder victims in Australia, Canada, Israel, South Africa and the United States.

When one in three girls in developing countries is likely to be married as a child bride; when some 140 million girls and women have suffered female genital mutilation; when millions of women and girls are trafficked in modern-day slavery; and when women’s bodies are a battleground, and rape is used as a tactic of war: it is time for action.

Distinguished Delegates,

This 57th session of this Commission provides us with an historic opportunity to exercise our responsibility to prevent and end violence against girls and women.

Violence against women occurs everywhere. And we know that ending this violence requires a strong chain of justice and the rule of law.

Today 160 countries have laws to address violence against women. Yet all too often the women and girls subjected to this violence are blamed and made to feel shame for the very violence that was committed against them. They search for justice in vain. In the worst cases, the women whose rights were violated are punished themselves while the perpetrators walk in freedom.

During the past six months, we have witnessed rising global public outrage at the violence committed against women and girls, some of whom are human rights defenders.

One of them is a 15-year-old girl whose courage, determination and campaigning for girls education is an inspiration to all of us. She proved her incredible strength by enduring a brutal attack and two operations to repair her skull and restore her hearing, a brave human rights defender named Malala Yousafzai.

Recently Malala spoke in front a camera for the first time, and she credited her survival to “the prayers of the people.” “Because of these prayers,” she said, “God has given me this new life and I want to serve, and I want every girl, every child to be educated.”

My friends,

It is for Malala and for every girl and woman, and every human being, that we must come to a strong action-oriented agreement to prevent and end violence against girls and women.

This is an issue of universal human rights and inherent human dignity that concerns us all, involves us all, and requires concerted and urgent action from all of us.

When we set up UN Women more than two years ago, we made ending violence against women one of our top priorities. And we are fully aware that this requires supporting changes in attitudes and behaviours, and making headway towards equal rights, equal opportunities and equal participation, especially in decision-making.

We are working in 85 countries to support national efforts to prevent violence in the first place, to end impunity for these crimes, and to expand essential services to survivors. The UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women has delivered more than $86 million dollars to 351 initiatives in 128 countries and territories. You can learn more about these efforts in the two reports before this Commission—one on the normative aspects of the work of UN Women, and the other on the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women.

The UN Secretary-General’s UNiTE campaign to end violence against women is mobilizing awareness and action worldwide. In Kyrgysztan, to name just one example, NGOs, artists, footballers, media and the private sector joined together and the Government adopted a new law with tougher penalties for bride kidnapping.

And last year in November, we launched the COMMIT Initiative. So far 41 countries from every region have made clear, national commitments in their countries and I salute them. The commitment of Governments is rising, and we expect more commitments in the coming days.

Madame Chair,

The full and equal participation of women makes democracy, the economy, and peace stronger.

As a standard-setting organization, the United Nations must lead by example. The UN Secretary-General has appointed many women to high level positions, as Under-Secretary-General and Assistant Secretary-General, in a historic jump. However, the representation of women in the UN system increased only marginally from 39.9 per cent in 2009 to 40.7 per cent in 2011, at a slower rate than in the previous two years. Gender parity has been reached only at the lower professional levels.

Focus should be placed on establishing special measures to attain parity in the higher professional levels. The UN System-wide Action Plan for Gender Equality points the way forward with standards for accountability on reaching gender parity and having policies in place, such as work-life balance, to create a conducive organizational culture.

During the next two weeks, this Commission will discuss many important matters, from the equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men to the Millennium Development Goals to the post-2015 development agenda. And let me say this: Ending violence against women is the missing MDG that must be included in any new development framework. We need a stand-alone goal on gender equality with gender mainstreamed across all other goals.

At this session, we have before us the reports of the Secretary-General on the situation of and assistance to Palestinian women, another on proposals for priority themes for future sessions of the Commission on the Status of Women. And two reports, which point the way forward in addressing our priority theme—one on multi-sectoral services and responses for women and girls subjected to violence, and the other on prevention of violence against women and girls.

I would now like to highlight five key areas for action.

First, we need to strengthen implementation of laws, policies and programmes for preventing and responding to violence against women and girls.

Implementation must be accelerated and Governments should be held accountable for their commitments and obligations. While there has been some progress, particularly for services and responses, implementation has been slow and uneven across countries. Many justice systems are weak and do not respond to women’s needs and there are shortages of trained police, legal and forensic staff. We need stronger action and sufficient budgets for laws, policies and programmes to deliver justice and services to women.

Second, we need to place more focus on preventing violence against women and girls.

Violence can be prevented by addressing the root causes of gender inequality and discrimination and protecting the human rights of women and girls, including their reproductive rights and right to sexual and reproductive health. When women and girls can claim their rights, and enjoy equal opportunity and an adequate standard of living, they are less susceptible to gender-based violence.

It is also critical to foster changes in attitudes, beliefs and behaviours that condone or perpetuate violence. This can be done through awareness-raising, community mobilization, educational programmes, and support for children and young people who are exposed to violence.

One thing is certain: Preventing violence against women requires the engagement of all segments of society, and especially men and boys as partners in gender equality and respectful relationships.

Third, we must address prevention and response together as part of a comprehensive and coordinated strategy to be effective.

We need to send the strong signal that violence is unacceptable and will not be tolerated and perpetrators will be punished. Words need to be matched by action. In all our efforts, we need to engage survivors because they know from experience what is needed. For instance, sending a trafficking victim back home to where she was kidnapped may result in her being targeted again by the same kidnappers, resulting in further exploitation and violations of her rights. Such a scenario could be prevented by addressing prevention and response together with a focus on the rights of the woman.

Women’s participation in overall decision-making, in peace talks and peace-building, and in institution-building, can prevent violence against women and girls. Preventing violence against women is important because this violence undermines key elements of successful post-conflict peacebuilding, such as social stability, economic recovery, effective State authority, and overall development.

Fourth, establishing comprehensive and accessible multi-sectoral services and responses is essential.

This means providing the full range of services and responses.

Here I would like to provide an excellent example from El Salvador. In their programme, Ciudad Mujer, the focus is not only in responding to violence against women, but in offering services that can empower women in all spheres of life, including childcare, financial support, access to health services – including sexual and reproductive health – shelters, legal aid, and long-term support, among others. This is exactly the approach and vision that is needed to respond to violence against women and allow me to congratulate El Salvador for pushing this model forward.

Access to services is especially important in conflict and post-conflict settings, where women and girls are most vulnerable, whether to sexual violence, forced displacement, or targeted attacks on women human rights defenders, and services are most scarce. All countries and the international community as a whole must do more to address this crisis as a top priority.

And one thing is certain: We need more women police, peacekeepers and judges. Studies show that women report rape more when there are women police officers. It is very simple – we need to give women the confidence, the trust that they will be treated fairly, justly! Women serving on the front lines of justice strengthen justice for women.

Fifth and finally, reliable data, analysis and research are essential to inform the development of laws, policies and programmes on violence against women and girls.

Monitoring and evaluating their effectiveness is necessary. And here I would like to highlight an exciting initiative that is grounded in data and evidence, the Safe Cities programme. The first step that municipalities take is a scoping study to determine the extent of the problem and identify problem areas. Work is now underway in more than 20 cities, and this number continues to rise, to make cities safe for girls and women.

All over the world, change is possible and change is happening.

Just a few months ago, Africa took the lead in the UN General Assembly with a resolution that gained unanimous support to ban the practice of female genital mutilation worldwide.
It is now up to this Commission to put its unanimous support behind an agreement that will strengthen international norms and standards and provide a plan of action to prevent and end all forms of violence against women and girls.

Ten years ago, this Commission took up the theme of women’s human rights and ending violence against women. And member States were not able to come to an agreement. Today, 10 years later, we simply cannot allow disagreement or indecision to block progress for the world’s women.

I encourage all of us to seize this historic opportunity to end the cycle of violence that diminishes us all.

Just as people worldwide are rising, let us also rise to the occasion. Let us unite for women and girls and demonstrate a United Nations that lives up to our ideals of equal rights of men and women, of human rights and human dignity for all.

Thank you very much.